Audi: Is It Better To Say Nothing At All?

I’m sure you’ve seen the news that Audi have pulled their recent advertisement, due to a number of complaints that a young girl eating a banana was too ‘suggestive’.

The German car brand took to Twitter to publicly apologise in a 4-tweet thread

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The coverage of the pull and the apology, got more attention than the original advert did (from what I can see anyway) and opinions are totally mixed. The general consensus is that if you interpret a child eating fruit as anything other than innocent, than you are the one with the problem. Others argue that the car is not a family car, and that the ad deploys a ‘disturbing inuendo’.

What I wanted to discuss was not who is right or wrong, but rather: have Audi dug themselves a deeper hole by pulling the ad altogether?


We all know by now that not all publicity is good publicity, and Audi landing themselves in the press for their recent controversial actions has not necessarily been good for the brand. Opinion seems to dictate that there really was nothing wrong with the original ad, and that a small number of complaints is not representative of general opinion.

The debate is quite a moral one, but the issue for the brand is that Audi’s name is at the centre of the argument. Though they haven’t necessarily come under ‘fire’ for their decisions, they are still very much in the spotlight.

And then of course, you have the other side of the debate: who believe that Audi were in the wrong from the beginning. More publicity of the issue, has given them a bigger platform to voice their concerns.

Can You Act *Too* Fast In A Crisis?

If you studied PR like me, you’d have been told that every crisis warrants a response. The worst thing you can do is stick your head in the sand and hope things will blow over. They won’t. And if they do, you’ll still be remembered as the brand who did nothing.

Something they don’t necessarily teach you, however, is the implications that can come about when you act too fast.

Make no mistake, you should always react to a crisis as soon as you are able, but if a decision is made quickly, eratically, and without too much thought – it can land more issues than you originally had on your plate.

I feel like that’s exactly what’s been seen here.

Because before, I was unaware of Audis advert before they pulled it, now I cannot escape the stories and images being passed around on social media. I’d not seen the full video, much less had I seen any complaints about it. Articles suggest that there were a few concerned few who raised their issues with the campaign, but how many is a few? Like I say, I’d never heard of any issues before the ad actually got pulled. Now, I’ve heard about it plenty.

It seems that Audi have landed themselves with more publicity from their response, than the original issue even got.

That’s not something you see every day.

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And is it an issue? Well, quite possibly.

There’s an argument that if you see something wrong with the advertisement, then you’re the one with the problem. Now that Audi have pulled the ad, does that mean they fit within that category?

It’s quite the debate, and one that could have potentially been avoided with a different response. Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and we’ll never know what outcome there’d have been if another path was taken.

But I guess we can speculate.

Other Possible Solutions…

Crisis comms is notoriously tricky. I studied it in part at university, and recently brushed up with Amanda Coleman’s Crisis Communications Strategies book (a very good read that I highly recommend), but even now I think i’d still be wary entering a situation like this. It’s easy to get it wrong, but by the same token you can do more damage by not doing anything.

So, what could Audi have done differently?

Public statements are commonplace, and often are the standard response to a crisis, but what else could Audi have said in this situation. They’d have to pick a strong argument, either they disagree with the complaints, or apologise for the advert (which is almost the same as saying you agree that it was suggestive). It’s kind of a lose lose situation. The full statement on their Twitter dictates that the car is a family car, hence them using models of all ages, they also go on to say that they “sincerly apologise for this insensitive image and ensure that it will not be used in future. We will also immediately examine internally, how this campaign has been created and if control mechanisms failed in this case.”

The issue remains that some think the brand shouldn’t have to explain themselves. While others think they do. So with this in mind, is this a rare situation where keeping schtum might have been the best option? As I’ve stated (probably quite a few times) above, I didn’t see a single complaint whilst the ad was being broadcasted. If they were being made privately to the company, could this have been handled internally?

Unfortunately, you’ll never please anybody. The best you can do is try your hardest to solve an issue that keeps all parties at leas satisfied to some degree. This is a rare situation where speaking out and going public, might have done more harm than good. It’s a complex issue and certainly one that I don’t have answers for. I am interested to see if Audi makes any future reference to the issue though, or if they let bygones be bygones and move on to their next campaign.

In the words of the legend that is Ronan Keating, is it sometimes best “when you say nothing at all?”

Let me know your thoughts on Twitter, or in the comments below.

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